WE may have failed our first Six Nations exam last weekend but those who tuned in to watch the Dublin Racing Festival from Leopardstown were surely comforted by the fact that we are still the best when it comes to the racetrack.
Four years on from its inauguration, the Dublin Racing Festival has become a giant spectacle which has an unrivalled concentration of quality. Yes, I said unrivalled!
Christmas meetings, Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown festivals are spread over three to five days yet the DRF packs all the action into two fabulous days filled with top-quality competitors and high-octane entertainment.
Honeysuckle produced a career-best to retain her Irish Champion Hurdle crown. Monkfish looked a ready-made Gold Cup contender in the Flogas Novice Chase. Kemboy set the record straight in the Irish Gold Cup while Appreciate It, Gaillard Du Mesnil and Quilixios all confirmed their promise at Grade 1 level.
It was a profitable weekend for favourite backers but even the most enthusiastic of punters must have been blown away by the dominance of some of the key players.
So if the punters were pleased, how about the British contingent watching on from the safety of home?
Even Nicky Henderson admitted to the Racing Post on Wednesday, “I wish I hadn’t watched it... it was slightly frightening.” This coming from a man who has Epatante, Buveur d’Air and Shishkin to lead his team next month but after the disappointment of Santini in last Saturday’s Cotswold Chase, does Henderson have any real Gold Cup contender?
On that note – step forward Champ! Not seen since catching Minella Indo and Allaho in last season’s RSA Chase, Champ has some serious questions to answer in the Denman Chase at Newbury tomorrow. Out of a sister to the great Best Mate, there is no question that this horse is bred to win a Gold Cup but his absence must be a worry.
The presence of Clan Des Obeaux and Lostintranslation amongst others will ensure we witness a proper test of Champ and it should provide an informative guide with one eye on Cheltenham.
Like many of us, Henderson will likely have been in awe of Chacun Pour Soi’s performance in the Dublin Chase. Chacun has never made it to Cheltenham but provided he stays sound this year, one of his toughest opponents is likely to be dual Champion Chase hero Altior.
Now an 11yo, Altior has won 21 of his 25 starts. He will be hoping to resume winning ways in the Game Spirit Chase on Saturday but similarly to his aforementioned stablemate, Altior now has questions to answer.
We have only seen him race once since February 2021, when he finished a never threatening second to Nube Negra in the Desert Orchid Chase over Christmas and while his main opponent Greaneteen was no match for his stablemate Politologue in the Tingle Creek, he is certainly good enough to test Altior on soft ground.
Notebooks out, can he bounce back?
Over at Warwick, Allmankind will be hoping to remind us all that there are more than just two horses in the Arkle next month, when he runs in the Kingmaker Chase. Energumene and Shishkin have been discussed as if the Arkle were a match race but Dan Skelton’s Allmankind remains unbeaten in two runs over fences to date and was rated 146 over hurdles last year.
The Kingmaker Chase is often a good race, just last year Rouge Vif beat Nube Negra and in 2018 and Saint Calvados announced himself as a particularly talented import for Harry Whittington. Allmankind is a front runner but will he emerge as a realistic contender after this final test?
Trainer David Cottin is breaking new ground at Warwick tomorrow afternoon as he saddles France’s first post-Brexit runner in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle. Paul’s Saga is an extremely talented mare who won the French Champion Hurdle on heavy ground last year.
Provided she puts up an encouraging display this weekend, she is likely to join her stablemate Easysland on the lorry to Cheltenham as she is being aimed at the Stayers Hurdle.
Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard have already established themselves as Ireland’s main protagonists in the bumper division but keep an eye out for the Paul Nicholls trained Petrossian in the Listed bumper at Newbury.
Having watched him win over course and distance in November, I think this horse could develop into a major threat in this bracket. Time will tell but watch with interest.